By Ernie Palladino
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We all know how this ends. We’re talking about the Mets, a franchise so rife with self-inflicted wounds that even the kindest of baseball gods won’t deign to cut it an occasional break.
For the Mets, fate and destiny just plain stink right now. Even Sandy Alderson couldn’t get around the fact that Matt Harvey’s partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow will probably wind up on a sterile table before a group of masked medicos invoking the name Tommy John.
The only good news here is that Harvey’s magical career is definitely not over. We won’t see him again this year, and probably won’t see him until 2015. Oh, the Mets will go through the process. Rest a couple of weeks, take another MRI and then deem that surgery is unavoidable. There appears little way around that. Thanks to advances in surgical technique and rehab regimens over the last couple of decades, though, Tommy John surgery is not the last-resort, 50-50 proposition of yesteryear.
Pitchers of all ages come back nicely from it these days. High-school kids have it and wind up as college All-Americans. Minor leaguers have it and wind up in the majors. Major leaguers such as Stephen Strasburg have it and come back as though nothing ever happened. Though his won-loss column doesn’t measure up, Strasburg has pitched to a 3.00 ERA on a bad Washington Nationals team this year, his fastball topping out at close to 100 MPH, just two seasons after Tommy John surgery.
So there is no reason to think the world will forever be deprived of Harvey’s wizardry in the future.
The now is the problem. The wonderful one-two punch of Harvey and Zack Wheeler that spiced every Mets fan’s dreams?
Shot. The offseason plan for getting a big, loud bat in the lineup must be put aside in order to find a quality starter to replace Harvey. While Wheeler appears ready to handle the pressures of the No. 1 spot, the Mets could surely use a top-flight No. 2 or No. 3 guy to go along with Jon Niese and Dillon Gee.
The minors have some real talent in Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. As dominant as Syndergaard has looked in Double-A, he may not be ready for primetime before he spends at least part of 2014 at the next level. Montero, considered the most tradable pitcher, could be gone out of necessity.
The Mets had enough holes to fill as it was. But Harvey’s status put even more emphasis on finding some outside help. The dominoes started falling immediately when they traded Marlon Byrd and John Buck to the Pirates. Oddly, the yield looks more to the future than 2014. Second baseman Dilson Herrera spent this year in Class A. One might have thought a two-veteran package that included a Comeback Player of the Year candidate in Byrd and a cash outlay would have brought something more substantial than a 19-year-old minor leaguer who, short of a meteoric rise, remains at least two years away from the bigs, and a player to be named later.
Alderson had better get ready to spend some significant free-agent money in the offseason to fill the Mets’ immediate holes.
But Tuesday’s move shows that Harvey’s elbow has forced the Mets to start dealing now. With reliever Pedro Feliciano and others on the block, more moves could come down in the next few weeks. Perhaps they’ll even get someone who can help next season.
Still, it’s not as though the Dodgers are going to send Clayton Kershaw this way anytime soon.
Such are the ripples that come from losing not just the franchise ace, but the most electric, exciting young pitcher in all of baseball. The long-range issue is that 2014, a year full of promise based on the potential of youngsters such as Juan Lagares, Travis d’Arnaud, and a Harvey-led rotation is now altered, perhaps irreparably.
If Alderson can swing the right moves, 2014 could still work out. The Mets could still escape laughingstock status, still challenge for a playoff spot. Maybe even go deep into the postseason if the baseball gods have a change of heart. But that’s way in the future.
For now, the black cloud continues to hang over Citi Field.
You’d think someone upstairs owed the Mets a break.
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